Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1897 into law Sunday, inaugurating what the bill’s author, Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) described as “landmark legislation . . . to protect hard-working Californians who often times do not have a voice in the workplace.” The bill was drafted in response to the growing practice of corporations, particularly agriculture-based companies, to skirt state labor laws by relying on third-party contractors to hire employees and administer their wages.
Last May a Capital & Main report by Bill Raden and Gary Cohn documented how workers at the sprawling Taylor Farms vegetable and salad processing plant in Tracy were denied due-process rights along with health care and other employee benefits. (See “Ten Years a Temp: California Food Giant Highlights National Rise in Exploited Labor.”) Taylor Farms has claimed that workers at its facilities are temporary employees who work for various contracting outfits. Many of these employees have worked years for Taylor Farms and yet have had little chance for advancement.
In a victory for public safety over private profitability, Senate Bill 1019 passed the state Assembly and Senate with strong bipartisan consent on August 27 and 28. Known as the Consumers’ Right to Know: Flame Retardants in Furniture bill, the measure – introduced by Senator Mark Leno, (D-San Francisco) — requires upholstered furniture manufacturers to disclose to consumers the use or absence of flame retardant chemicals on furniture labels.
“SB 1019 gives consumers what they have demanded for decades—the right to know what is in their furniture and the power to make an informed decision about whether to purchase it,” Leno said in a press statement.
Given SB 1019’s diverse support—from business associations to consumer groups, environmental organizations and labor unions—it appears likely Governor Brown will sign the bill by the September 30 legislative deadline, after which it would take effect January 1, 2015.
Getting business on board with SB 1019 proved to be a critical turning point for the bill.
Imagine being a waste worker sorting through trash for recyclables with only tattered gardening gloves and being pricked by a used hypodermic needle. Under the current conditions of many recycling companies, you would be told, “Get back to work” and simply have to bandage your wound – sometimes with pieces of paper from a pile of trash. And if you tried to talk with your boss about your fear of spreading illness from the needle to your family or friends, you are immediately fired. This is a true story of a former trash sorter – who was also considered a temporary employee – at a trash sorting facility in Los Angeles.
This story – of gross negligence and denial of company responsibility for basic worker health and safety protections – is too common a reality in low-wage industries. Bill Raden and Gary Cohn covered the plight of temporary workers in the food processing industry in a Capital &
When you hear about poverty wages and extreme anti-union tactics practiced by the largest company of its kind in the world, it’s natural to think of Walmart. But California-based Taylor Farms is giving the retail giant a run for its money when it comes to low-road labor practices, while offering another example of why it’s time for the U.S. to clamp down on the use of temp agencies by huge companies trying to evade responsibility for unconscionable working conditions.
Taylor Farms is the world’s largest producer of fresh-cut vegetables, and supplies some of the nation’s biggest fast food and grocery chains including McDonald’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, Safeway, Ralphs and Kroger. They operate in nine states as well as Mexico, and earned revenues of $1.8 billion in 2012.
A visit to the company website offers a bucolic image of a multigenerational family-run business with the highest ethical standards.
This afternoon the California State Assembly passed Assembly Bill 1897, which would hold companies accountable for violations of workers’ rights committed by their labor suppliers. The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina), passed 45-20.
Gary Cohn recently wrote about AB 1897 for Capital & Main, noting that passage could have national implications for temporary workers and income inequality. Capital & Main’s Bill Raden and Cohn previously investigated such worker abuses taking place at agribusiness giant Taylor Farms. Labor advocates supported the bill, noting that major corporations have used staffing companies to dodge responsibility for sub-standard working conditions. Meanwhile, more than 50 business groups opposed the bill.